This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Perhaps the feeling hasn’t sunk in yet! Perhaps hockey fans are still not finding it ‘comfortable to believe it to be true’. Indeed, the Indian senior men’s hockey team have performed the ‘unthinkable’ pulling the plug on world champions Australia not once, not twice but thrice and that too, in their own backyard to win the four Test series 3-1. But it all seemed like a ‘familiar disappointing tale’ when India were handed a clinical 0-4 defeat in the opening Test at the Perth Hockey Stadium. The performance dished out by the Terry Walsh-coached side smacked off ‘not often seen’ tenacity and self-belief from the Indian side.
The manner in which they rebounded from being a goal down in the first half of the second Test and scored twice in two minutes to pull off a 2-1 win, before building on their soaring confidence to win the next two Tests 1-0 and 3-1 tells us something about this vastly improved side.
The phenomenal performance of India has set the tongues wagging as to whether the Indian team have made huge strides since the disastrous 2012 London Olympics campaign. Sample this: India – ranked ninth in the world – have beaten four higher-ranked teams this year.
The Sardar Singh-led side started the year with a stunning 5-4 win over Olympic champions Germany at the Hockey World League Final Round in New Delhi, before going on to prevail over Korea 3-0 at the World Cup. The Blueshirts then pipped New Zealand 3-2 after trailing 02- down at one stage in the semifinals of the Commonwealth Games before going on to put it across the world number one side thrice on the trot. For stats-minded, India’s last win over Australia came four years back when they won 4-3 at the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
Clearly, the year 2014 has panned out to be a phase of ‘rapid progress’ for the national team. Former India centre-forward Jagbir Singh believes India have played exceedingly well to beat Australia in Australia. “Beating Australia in their own backyard is a remarkable thing. Not many times we see Australia being beaten at home, so it’s an outstanding effort from our team, hats off to them,” Singh said.
A one-time livewire of the Indian forwardline, Jagbir, who donned the national jersey at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 1992 Barcelona Olympics, has no doubts that India’s tactical play has shown marked improvement. “With coaches Terry Walsh and Roelant Oltmans around there is more tactical awareness than before and the team is combining well, which is showing in the recent positive results,” he said.
The fitness levels of the team drew copious praise from Jagbir. “Look, India played at the World Cup in May-June, Commonwealth Games in July-August, Asian Games in October-November and now the Test series in Australia in November. It is never easy playing back-to-back tournaments and the boys have held their own in all these tourneys, full marks to them, their fitness levels have really come to the fore,” he said.
The former Indian hitman brushes aside the cynical talk that India’s Test series came against a second-string Australian side. “You will always have people talking such stuff. I only feel sorry for the state of mind of these so-called cynics. The fact remains that India have beaten a decent Aussie side and the boys deserve all the credit,” he said.
Jagbir is upbeat about India doing well in the upcoming Champions Trophy. “India are known to fare well playing at home and the kind of confidence they have, I believe they can make it to the semifinals, winning the bronze will be a bonus,” he said.
Former Indian captain and midfielder Viren Rasquinha says the consistency of the national team has served the team well in recent times. “The boys have been consistently playing well be it the World Cup, CWG, Asiad or the Test series in Australia. It’s indeed heartening to see India beat Australia in Australia,” Rasquinha said.
Viren, who called time on his international career in 2008 after having played 180 internationals, believes the team has been on a roll save for a patch showing in the early stages of the Asiad. “The boys have hit the groove since the World Cup. Of course, we did not play well in the first three matches at Asiad, and after the loss to Pakistan in the league stage, the boys really pulled up their socks to win the Asiad gold after a gap of sixteen years,” he said.
The former midfielder dismisses all talk of India’s Test series win coming against a second-string Kookaburras side. “We have to be concerned about how our team performs and not bother much about which team Australia is fielding. Australia are a good side and the absence of two or three players does not make much of a difference. The bottom-line is that we have beaten a good Aussie side,” he said.
Former India winger Thoiba Singh is of the opinion that regular India-Australia encounters are helping the confidence of the national team. “India have been playing Australia regularly, they have played each other eight times this year and when one plays against top teams frequently, the confidence level of the team goes up and our team is benefiting from it,” Thoiba Singh said.
Thoiba, who represented the country at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games as well as at the 1990 Lahore World Cup, was impressed with the way coach Terry Walsh has handled the boys. “Terry Walsh’s style of coaching has helped our side, the team is playing as a unit and I’m sure the team will take plenty of confidence from this Test series into the upcoming Champions Trophy,” he said.
Former Indian forward Ashok Kumar – son of legendary Dhyan Chand – applauded the side but warned against any complacency creeping into the team. “It is wonderful to see India beat Australia, the self-belief of the boys must be quite high now and I hope they do well in the upcoming Champions Trophy. Having said that, I hope they don’t get carried away and maintain the momentum at the upcoming Champions Trophy,” Kumar said.